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60 Years Of Skiing at BR

July 14, 2011 Share on Facebook

Today marks 60 years since the first skiing in Broken River Basin by founding Broken River Ski Club members.

July 14th 1951 vividly recalled

Leith Newell, founding member and wife of founding President, the late Jack Newell, recalls the trip of July 14th 1951 vividly.

 “The group of 10, from Rangiora, came up in the usual chariot, Jack’s V.8 truck – four in the cab and the rest in the back under the canvas tilt.  Geoff and one other came through from Christchurch in ‘Aussie’, his 1928 Austin 7.  We set off for the Basin from the bush edge at the start of the current Broken River road.  The workers shouldered grubbers, picks and shovels to work on the future road and the seven optimists, skis.  We walked in about 15 centimetres of snow, following our new roughly formed track for a short distance and then a blazed trail up through the bush, over the ridge near ‘Jacks Pass’ and connected up with the rough track to Allan Willis’s small bush hut.  We continued on up the valley to Allan’s Hut, skis battering from one tree to the next and the heavy-footed breaking though the crusted snow.”

“After lunch in Allan’s Hut the boys offered to clean up while the three girls – in the manner of the Egyptians, women and children first – headed up the mountain.  We broke trail in breakable crust up to our knees, and following the bush edge reached the ridge, above the site of the present accommodation huts.  A fairly exhausted group gathered here, fitted skins and made a high traverse into Broken River Basin at 4 p.m.!”

“It was pretty cold at that time of day, so after a very quick slide round we turned for home and had an exciting run back to the bushline.  The experts in the group could do stem turns and were learning to ‘Christie’.  The snow, although right down to the main highway, was sparse and tussocks poked through here and there.  We had learned to ski on tussocks and daisies at the south end of Lake Lyndon so this hazard we merely ignored.”

“Then off with the skis and a bouncing trip down the hillside with giant strides and into the bush in the dark.  None of us had torches so thankfully it was moonlight and head tracker Mehrtens was able to retrace our footsteps.  It was a long, long climb up to the ridge to cross near ‘Jack’s Pass’ and a very tired party arrived back at ‘Watling Street’ near the beginning of the present Broken River road to find Hass and the group of prospective members huddled round a fire.  He had them worried with tales of “side-hill” cougars and other prowling beasts of the mountains.”

No hi-tech gear in 1951

Contrast the hi-tech gear of 2011 with 60 years ago.  The well-dressed adventurer of 1951 wore gabardine ski pants of generous cut, long woollen army puttes around the ankles to keep the snow out (“tiresome to put on” reflects Leith), woollen flannel shirt, a windproof jacket with elasticised waistband, and a peaked ski cap.  Ski gear included N.Z. made O’Brien ski boots which were tramping boots with a square toe for the ski binding and a strap across the instep for support.  “At least they were waterproof” says Leith Newell. Skis of the day were solid Hickory, Ash or Southland Beech fitted with ‘legbreaker’ downpull bindings.  Plush climbing skins were an essential piece of equipment although one member of the group was known to use binder twine.

60 Years On

Sixty years on the ski clothes and gear may have changed markedly, but not the great friendships, passion for skiing and fun in the snow.  At the 50th celebrations, in 2001, founding President Jack Newell commented “Little did we know what we were starting. We had no idea then that fifty years later our Ski Club would have made such progress – gear transported up the mountain by tram, huts with showers, flush toilets and electricity, and that our best skiers would race overseas in Olympics and World Cups - or that three generations would all be on the mountain together.”

Cheers to our founders - we have a great Ski Club and much to thank you for!

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